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Serenity : Required Geek Viewing

Tuesday 6 February 2007, by Webmaster

Fifteen geek movies to see before you die

I am as much a film geek as a tech geek. In a previous life, I reviewed music and movies, and had lots more fun with the latter. If someone offered me a film-review job that paid my mortgage, I’d take it in a second, but I have a feeling that will remain a part of my past rather than become my future.

Sadly, most of the film reviews I wrote back then are not online . . . I’d love to share the absolutely horrible review I wrote of The Story of O for the Daily Texan, circa 1975. But alas . . .

Geeks and movies go together quite nicely. I’ve been thinking about films that reflect tech and geek culture, and have pulled together a list of 15 movies that should probably be on any geek’s must-see list.

These are in no particular order, except that the first one is my No. 1 Must-Watch-for-Geek-Cred film.

• Brazil — There are some geeks who’d argue you should just list "any film directed by Terry Gilliam," but I’m only putting three on my list. Brazil tops it, though, for the ultimate in skewed sci-fi dystopia. Geeks relate to its themes of freedom, longing and getting the girl, despite being quite dorky. Oh, and Robert DeNiro as a subversive air-conditioning repairman rocks, too.

• The Matrix — Yeah, the second two in this series almost ruined the legacy of the first, but The Matrix remains an icon of geek culture. A fun mix of sci-fi, cyberpunk lit and sociopolitical commentary, it extends the notion of machines run amok further than any previous film. And after seeing it, I dare you not to wonder whether we all are, indeed, jacked in to some cheesy simulation of reality.

• The Fifth Element — The best Terry Gilliam film he didn’t make, The Fifth Element has some cheap special effects but makes the list for its vision of media, society and art. If the vocal performance of the tube-headed alien doesn’t give you goose bumps, you’re not alive. Oh yeah, and Bruce Willis is pounds of fun, too.

• Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan — William Shatner’s cry of "Khaaaaaaaaaaan!!!" has entered the Geek Movie Scene Hall of Fame, as has Chekov’s getting an earful of a space worm. Lines such as "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one," uttered by Spock as he sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise, have entered the lexicon.

• Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home — The next-best film in the series makes the list for two wonderful scenes. The crew of the Enterprise comes back to mid-1980s Earth to save the future planet from destruction by a whale-loving alien. At one point, engineer Scotty confronts a Macintosh and tries to talk to it. Someone points out he should use the mouse, which he then picks up and says into it: "Computer!" Next is the scene in which Spock gives the Vulcan death grip to a rude, boombox-toting punk on a bus. Audiences still cheer that scene.

• Serenity — Even if you’ve never watched the Firefly TV series, you owe it to yourself to see Serenity. It’s easily the best Star Trek movie that’s not a Star Trek movie, and you don’t need to be versed in the characters to get what’s going on. In fact, even if you didn’t follow the series, you’ll still weep when one of the major characters dies. This movie is smart, funny and hits the right balance between serious action and fun camp.

• Dark City — There are those who hint, eyebrows arched, that The Matrix got its best ideas from Dark City, even though the latter was released just one year before the former. A city is reworked each night, people’s memories are rewritten and those who begin to guess the truth are reprogrammed. This film owes a lot visually to earlier works, such as the films of Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau and Robert Wiene.

• 12 Monkeys — A Terry Gilliam/Bruce Willis pairing, 12 Monkeys is a little less serious in its dystopian vision. Willis travels back in time in an attempt to prevent a virus from ravaging the future. The film is worth it for Brad Pitt’s best performance ever, as a crazed environmental terrorist. A review at the Internet Movie Database offers a grammatically garbled warning to take to heart, though: ". . .this movie needs your attention the forthcoming two hours and you better not miss some minutes for getting a coke as there is a danger you can’t follow." I think I agree . . .

• Shaun of the Dead — This is both the best parody of a zombie movie ever made, and the best zombie movie ever made. All zombie movies are political commentary — the masses are mindless and dangerous, yada yada — but few of them have as much fun with it as this one. In Shaun of the Dead, the heroes are misfits and geeks who bust through the conventions of zombie filmdom. It will be hard to make a zombie movie with a straight face from here on out.

• Darkman — Sam Raimi does a comic book movie, pre-Spider-Man. It’s an updated version of Batman with a darker heart and more attitude, in which a scientist is horribly disfigured by thugs and uses his brains to outwit their brawn to wreak vengeance. In other words, geeks harassed in high school by jocks for being science nerds will relate.

• Army of Darkness — More Sam Raimi, this time capping off his Evil Dead series with a more mainstream and approachable film. Bruce Campbell, arguably the king of geek actors, reprises his Ash role as he’s sucked back in time to the Middle Ages. Ash is both brilliant and brilliantly dumb, playing a geek who succeeds in spite of himself. Best scenes — Ash assembles a replacement for the arm he hacked off in Evil Dead II, and he does battle with a demon in the aisles of an "S-Mart".

• War Games — Possibly the first film to give mainstream audiences a taste of hacker culture — sanitized though it was — War Games is both a period piece and a source of geek lexicon. The term wardialing, the practice of dialing random phone numbers until you find a modem to connect to, came from this film. That later morphed in to wardriving — cruising the streets in search of unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Geeks will also have a great time watching for the techno-mistakes, which are legion.

• Monty Python and the Holy Grail — I occasionally run into geeks who say, "I’ve never seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but I feel like I have." I think it’s fair to argue that the Pythons invented geek humor, and this movie is its pinnacle. Note to serious geeks: You shouldn’t just have seen this movie, you should pwn it.

• Office Space — No film has captured what it’s like to work at an "enlightened" high-tech workplace as has Office Space, which bombed when first released but has become a cult hit on DVD. Who among us hasn’t wanted to smash the office fax machine with a baseball bat while profane hip hop plays in the background?

• Repo Man — Directed by Alex Cox, this movie is best known for having been produced by former Monkee Mike Nesmith (the smart, talented one). Emilio Estevez plays a punk who takes a job as a repo man. "Repo man is intense," Harry Dean Stanton tells him, and that’s an understatement. Geek alienation and the blanding down of mainstream society are the themes here. Those who missed the 1980s may not get the references to black-and-white generics — Estevez dines from a can marked simply "Food" — but a little history lesson never hurt anyone.